Our journey in to Missouri began around Joplin on I-44. You can't see the devastation that you see on the news but, wow, that place got hit hard. A week after the storm there was still insulation, roofing material and other debris along the interstate. They're going to need help for a long time. If you're ever passing through, stop and eat or buy gas in Joplin. They're depending on their I-44 revenue more than ever as many of their major businesses were completely destroyed.
Our next point of interest was Springfield...more specifically Ozark. We ALWAYS stop to eat at Lambert's. That did not prove to be a great idea at noon on Memorial day so we went across the street to Braum's. Can't beat a good burger and milk shake anyway.
On to Branson...
Our first stop this go round was Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery. Missouri produces trout to release into the area lakes and streams and this is one of their many hatcheries. We love the hatchery. We're big nature and science lovers so learning about fish eggs was right up our alley. There is a small visitor center with aquariums and a short video about the breeding process. It's air conditioned and has clean bathrooms and a water fountain ( this is important information with 3 small children ). Outside there are $0.25 fish food machines and they encourage you to feed the trout. Evidently growing trout eat a lot of food. Bring your own cup though; none are provided. The hatchery is located just north of TableRock dam near the spillway. Admission is FREE. More information here.
The view from our balcony
The main reason we visit Branson is Silver Dollar City. It was a short 10 minute drive away from our resort. If you've never been, you are missing out. Tickets are a little high at $60 for adults and $48 for children 4 and older but it is worth it. Many resorts offer two-for-the-price-of-one tickets so your ticket is really paying for 2 full days at the park. We chose to to spend 2 short days at the park...2:00pm-7:00pm on the first day and 9:00am-2:00pm on the second. Ten hours total and we still didn't see and do everything. There is way too much to say about SDC....the food, the craftsmen, the rides, the atmosphere...you'll just have to check out their website for more information. I will offer a few (or 20!) tips if you've never been...
1. wear sunscreen
2. SDC provides free ice water at all their restaurants. All you have to do is ask for a cup.
3. wear good walking shoes
4. go prepared to get wet
5. stay for the show after the park closes
6. you can take your own cooler/bag of snacks and drinks
7. you can get discounted refills if you buy their "mug". you can also use mugs from previous seasons.
8. most rides require you to be 36" tall. that's how tall my 3 year olds are.
9. wear sunscreen
10. stuff is expensive. take plenty of cash.
11. the meals average around $8 but are large portions that could be shared with a child.
12. take a stroller (or rent one) if you have small children. it's a lot of walking.
13. SDC is in the Ozark hills. there are hills in the park. you have to walk up and down them. some are steep. be prepared. i.e. don't ride your motorized scooter down a hill then expect to ride back up. it won't work.
14. the kid's meals are around $5 and are big enough for an adult.
15. there are lockers outside the bigger rides to put bags in. they cost $0.50. there are cubbies at some of the smaller rides.
16. watch the demonstrations...candy making, glass blowing, metal working, wood working.
17. ride the train
18. don't skip the pioneer homestead area. it's really neat.
19. allow plenty of time. you'll want to do it all.
and last but not least...
20. wear sunscreen
One of the many shops at SDC. This one was the Apple Store. A woman was making homemade apple turnovers on a turn of the century stove. Yum.
The glass blowing demonstration
Watching sister and dad ride the elephants. We're pretty excited about the addition of all the kiddie rides.
Petting Cotton the miniature horse. There are a few animals you can hold or pet in the homestead area.
SDC provides us with our own water fountain. How nice of them.
And about avoiding Branson altogether. Branson has a lot to offer. Museums, shows, wineries, restaurants...it's just really freaking busy. We did end up driving into town for dinner one night at Cracker Barrel. And the only reason we did is because we fed our loaf of bread to the geese or we would have had a sandwich at our condo.
So the total (because people have asked) cost of our 4 day vacation to Branson...$315 hotel + $168 SDC + $400 cash for gas and food + $30 for each kid to spend on souvenirs = $973. It could have been around $873 if we hadn't have fed that loaf of bread to the geese.